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Governors Face Criticism For Reopening Or Not Reopening States


Fifty American states are taking 50 different approaches to the pandemic. It's even a little more than 50 if you count non-states like Puerto Rico or the District of Columbia. The differences are especially apparent on this first of May. Some states have lifted stay-at-home orders while others say it's too soon. Let's check in with three states - California, Arizona and Texas. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Los Angeles. Ben Giles of KJZZ is in Phoenix. And Bret Jaspers of KERA is in Dallas. Good morning to you all.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.


BEN GILES, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And Bret, let's start with you. Texas is reopening some things today. I know a stay-at-home order goes away. But that doesn't mean that all the rules go away, right?

JASPERS: Well, Texas is opening partially to 25% capacity at some businesses. And those include movie theaters, restaurants, retail stores, museums, malls, libraries. If you have very few cases of COVID-19 - like, less than five - in your county, you can go up to 50% capacity. But there are a bunch of businesses that are still closed - bars, gyms, hair salons. And these are rules for, you know, the whole state. So no local entity, no local county or city can do anything stricter or looser than that.

INSKEEP: Are the businesses that are allowed to open going to do so?

JASPERS: So far, I've heard a mix of things. A lot of business groups and associations have really praised this partial reopening. They're calling it, like, a measured good step. But, you know, major movie theaters, for example, movie theater chains, they've decided to stay closed. I mean, there aren't really a lot of movies to show right now.


JASPERS: But also smaller restaurants, you know, they have to decide whether or not to open. And many of the smaller ones are not. I had spoke to Adam Krajewski. He's the executive sous chef at a Dallas restaurant. And his place is waiting to reopen until the dining room can be at least half-full, which you, know our, governor, Governor Greg Abbott, says might come around May 18. And so they're taking the next couple of weeks to prepare for that.

ADAM KRAJEWSKI: We have a number of people living in my house. But I'm the only one who is going to be going out to work. Everyone else will be staying in. So I've been told by everybody multiple times, you know, if we get sick (laughter), it's you that brought it in.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's Texas. Now let's move to Arizona, where Ben Giles is standing by. And your state's governor, Doug Ducey, has taken a different approach - the opposite approach, it seems - extending the stay-at-home order. Why?

GILES: Well, he did extend it, but with some modifications. There are certain retailers that can reopen as long as they're following strict social distancing guidelines on Monday. So that'll be things like curbside pickup, deliveries or appointment-only business. And then on Friday, other retailers can start to expand and open more, but, again, with really strict details on social distancing, making sure they're minimizing crowds at businesses.

Things like bars, movie theaters and gyms, those are going to stay closed. Restaurants - the governor is hoping for dine-in restaurants to reopen mid-May. But even Ducey said that's aspirational. But, yeah. Otherwise, the stay-at-home order was going to expire at midnight Thursday. The governor decided to extend it at least through May 15. And that still means, don't leave the house unless you're shopping for food or medical supplies or essentials.

INSKEEP: How did the governor defend that move against criticism from people who want to reopen more fully?

GILES: Yeah. There are some Republicans who've called his decision weak here in Arizona. And I think the governor was ready for that kind of reaction. And that's why when he made this announcement on Wednesday, he really laid out the foundation for his decision-making process.

He showed slide after slide of data the first 10 or 15 minutes of his press conference, showing how his stay-at-home order has actually helped to mitigate the spread of the virus, but that the same data doesn't show that downward trends of infections that he and health officials are looking for. He also bristled at efforts to compare his decisions to other governors, like in Texas, and said even though he's itching to reopen the economy as much as anyone, it's just not the right time.


DOUG DUCEY: I just want to do it at the right time. And I want it to be successful. It would be irresponsible for me to make decisions to reopen with the chance that I would have to come back because we didn't have the proper guidance or data and ask people to do this again.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's what's happening in Arizona. I'm noticing listening to you two that there are differences, but maybe not as drastic as it seems. A stay-at-home order is lifted, but with some restrictions. A stay-at-home order is continued, but with a few changes. And now let's move over to California, where Adrian Florido is standing by. This is a state that was hit very hard very early. What is Governor Gavin Newsom doing now?

FLORIDO: Well, still not a lot of changes in the actual order. But the governor earlier this week did lay out a plan that he said is a plan in four phases to reopen the economy here - Phase 1 being the one that we're in now, which is sort of, you know, continuing to improve working conditions for essential workers, providing more protective equipment, expanding the state's ability to test for the virus and perform contact tracing. And then, he said that at some point - what he expects to be the next several weeks - we're going to move into Phase 2, which will mean, you know, reopening public spaces and some low-risk businesses that can open while implementing modifications in their operations to prevent the spread of the disease.

And then he's talking about Phases 3 and 4. Phase 3 will be the reopening of higher risk businesses like movie theaters, like gyms, allowing in-person religious services. And then at some point, we'll get to Phase 4, which is when the state's stay-at-home order will end. Those last two phases he doesn't expect that California will reach those for several months. And, you know, because...


FLORIDO: ...California is such a big state, he's also talking about sort of being open to different parts of the state sort of reaching these different phases at different points in time.

INSKEEP: So these plans in California are aspirational. But let's swing back to Texas, where they really are moving at this moment. Bret, what are public health experts in Texas saying about the governor lifting the stay-at-home order there?

JASPERS: Well, a lot of it comes down to testing, they say. And, you know, Texas is near the bottom in per capita testing right now compared to the rest of the country. And so they say, you know, we don't have the knowledge that testing would give us in order to reopen safely in this way. And, you know, Governor Abbott wants two weeks - the next two weeks to reassess how the virus is doing. And they say, you know, two weeks isn't enough time to see it reflected in the data what any effect of reopening will have.

INSKEEP: Yeah. That's a major challenge here, isn't it? - that no matter what you do, you don't find out what the result is for maybe more than two weeks, maybe several weeks when you find out if the hospitals fill up a lot more or not. So three different approaches to the pandemic at this point on this May 1. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Los Angeles. Bret Jaspers of KERA is in Dallas, Texas. And Ben Giles of KJZZ is in Phoenix, Ariz. Thanks to all of you.

FLORIDO: Thanks Steve.

JASPERS: Thank you.

GILES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.
Ben Giles
Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.